Transportation Operations – The Never-ending story

Civil engineers are sometimes asked to tell the stories of the projects they worked on. These projects typically have a beginning, a middle, and an end to the story. The work of transportation engineers usually involves planning, design, and operation of transportation facilities. The story of planning a project moves through initial concepts to address a mobility issue, involvement of stakeholders, a consensus on the goals and objectives of the proposed improvement, conceptual illustrations, and a final plan. The design process begins with the plan output, works though design issues and tradeoffs to meet budget constraints, and ends with a set of plans to build the project. The construction process has a beginning and a completion, and the project is ready to be opened for use. A ribbon cutting may be needed to assure that the appropriate elected officials can get the credit for their work in approving and financing the project. Now it is open to traffic. It serves the mobility needs of the community

The responsibility to operate and maintain the facility falls to the public agency owning the facility. Traffic signs, signal, and pavement markings are the traffic control devices that can be used for operations. The use can be restricted by limits on speed and limits on times of use. Because it is difficult for local elected officials to get credit for good operations, the financial support for operations is often lacking. The ribbon has been cut, and the elected officials assume that the facility will last forever. But it does not. It requires maintenance. The operation story does not have a neat beginning and an end. It is a never-ending story of service to a traveling public.

The operation story involves players who were not involved in the planning and design. In addition to the facility maintenance, there is a need to serve the public using the facility. This could be police, fire service, or ambulance service. It may involve tow service. Sometimes it snows. The operator of a transportation facility needs to coordinate the range of services needed by his customers. These other services are likely not under the control of the transportation operations servant, so he needs to develop relationships that will allow a coordinated response when operations go amiss. Transportation operations need to promote the safe and efficient movement of people and goods, but they also need to promote of safety of the responders who are trying to keep the travelers safe.